Fundamental(ist) Nuances

June 8, 2010 at 6:02 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

What is the guiding philosophy of the jihadists? This time we explore the ideological fractures among the jihadist movement.

The differences are primarily theological for in Islam, separation between Church and State is not a given and even more so in semi-theocratic movements such as that of the jihadists. ‘Jihadist’ however is a simplistic term. The complexity of those who fight the West and other Muslims in the name of Islam, must be understood.

Beginning with the militant Salafis – fundamentalist conservatives – of Al-Qaeda, they are by and large of Qutbist – a fundamentalist and pan-Islamic political ideology – and Wahhabi – a sub-school of the Hanbali ‘fiqh’ or jurisprudence branch – tradition. Qutbists in particular believe Muslims who suffer from ‘jahiliyyah’ – unconscious corruption by western values and modernism – are valid targets of ‘Jihad’. It is not altogether clear that wahhabi clerics in Saudi Arabia would endorse such a policy but the militant salafis’ doctrine is not strictly the same as that of the wahhabi in Saudi Arabia. The theological platform of Al-Qaeda – many of their leaders go by the honorific sheikh, which conveys elderly wisdom as well as scholarly authority – is not always formally recognised in the Islamic world, it is not official or …legitimate. They can indoctrinate, but they cannot build an academic school of thought.  The militant salafis are also radically anti-shia and anti-republican. Their doctrine clearly states that the shia are not Muslims, that no government is legitimate except for the one anointed by God.

They uphold that to interpret the Qoran is anathema and that the meaning of words and expressions can only be literal. Hence, the Jihad concept is reduced to its militant component and the centuries old theology that divides it into greater and lesser Jihad (the former translating into the effort to comply with Islamic Law, or inner struggle) is disregarded. Both qutbists and wahhabis clash with the Maaturidi and Ashari ‘aqidah’ – or theological schools – traditions for instance, precisely because of their contempt for the metaphysic the eclectic and the esoteric, and their obsession in claiming to know the absolute truth by studying the Qoran.

The Taliban on the other hand are a neo-Deobandi – a sub-school of the Hanafi fiqhmovement which derives from Islamic revivalist traditions dating back to the anti-colonialist struggle against the British Empire in India but many of the Taliban conscripts originate in Pakistani madrassas financed by international Muslim organisations from Gulf states which inculcated extremist Arab sunni principles.

Thus, there is a mix of ideologies but suspicion of al-Qaeda though, seems to be consensual. The more elder deobandis come out of sufi traditions and look down on the militant salafis literal interpretation of the Qoran – namely the controversy of Allah’s physical or metaphysical manifestation, militant salafis being accused of being ‘mujassimah’ i.e. anthropomorphists. A source of veiled uneasiness between deobandis and wahhabis for instance, is the level of attention given to the graves of the great fallen such as the Rashiddun (the well guided Caliphs). The deobandi jurisprudence approves of pilgrimages to the graves, the wahhabi does not.

These differences are present even within the Pakistani Taliban where the attitude towards shias, although commonly disfavourable is more extreme among salafis than deobandis.

On a more ideological tone, even Mullah Omar values the power of ethnic identity and nationalism, which he has used in his propaganda war against ISAF, by appealing to the Afghan identity, and which has been criticised by al-Qaeda spokesman Ayman al-Zawahiri, as pandering to nationalist lobbies in detriment of the transnational jihad. The militant salafis are irredentist and universalist, their qutbist/wahhabi fundamentals drives them always to speak for all Muslims first and the specific ethnicities/nationalities second. Palestine for example, is important for its Muslim victimisation character but not necessarily for the merits of its statehood/nationhood project, of which Al-Qaeda has nothing to say except for appeals to the destruction of Israel; a logical stance given that Fatah and Hamas are republican, the Islamic Jihad is sponsored by Iran and jihadist movements such as Jund Ansar Allah have been aborted by mainstream Palestinian movements.

However, both wahhabis and deobandis reject ‘shirk’ (polytheism) ’bidah’ (innovation) in Islam, namely they reject hadiths (extra-qoranic compilations of the words of the Prophet), other than the Hanbali and that of Wahhab. Both accuse shias of aposthasy, both tend to promote religious governments and denounce republican and secular ones and both promote primitive interpretations of sharia and are against the rights of women. All this of course explains why Al-Qaeda was able to so easily establish a partnership with the Taliban’s ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.

Another strand of jihadism is that found in central Asia and the Caucasus. The Naqshbandi are a sufi ‘tariqah’ (religious order). Sufism is a mystical tradition movement or ‘tasawwuf’ that ascribes specific rites to the daily Islamic practices. The naqshbandi tariqah is known for having been intolerant of other mystical orders that drifted closer or were tolerant of Hindu or Sikh values.

Some in this mystical movement share with groups like the Taliban a distaste for dancing. In addition, the mystical movements of the Turkic world have a historical competition with Persian shia tradition and the naqshbandi order is today quite prevalent in central Asia and the Caucasus. Another reason is the Saudi support for the Chechen rebellion which led Saudi money but also values into the borders of Russia. The common rejection of bidah further consolidated the alliance.

The naqshbandis are sufi though and this means that they differ from the salafis in the role of the sheikh which the salafis accuse of shirk since in the sufi tradition, the sheikh is an intermediary between the believers and the ‘hidden’ meaning of the Qoran – which the salafis deny altogether countering that only the literal meaning of the Qoran is valid and everything else is bidah.

Thus, the qutbist and wahhabi inspired Al-Qaeda differs from the deobandi inspired Taliban and both differ from the militant naqshbandi IMU and Chechen rebels.

That which is important to conclude is that while jihadists tend to come from salafi, wahhabi, deobandi and naqshbandi backgrounds, only qutbists can be ascribed as extremists and jihadists by normative definition. There are many salafis, wahhabis, deobandis and naqshbandis who do not go into jihadist militancy.

An issue to continue exploring is how these theological and even ecclesiastical differences, will translate into political ideology.

An important final note is that while many of the theological and ideological divisions mentioned are important, in many cases these differences approach more the nature of prejudice and superstition (against unknown or mysterious traditions) rather than crystal clear, written disagreements.


  1. Tweets that mention Fundamental(ist) Nuances « The Westphalian Post -- said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by irknowledge, The Westphalian Post. The Westphalian Post said: New blog post: Fundamental(ist) Nuances […]

  2. M. Silva said,

    Worth watching:

    The Power of Nightmares Volume 1 Part 1 of 6

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: